EPA faces lawsuit over impact of pesticides on salmon

SEATTLE, Washington, July 27, 2004 (ENS): Three conservation and fishing groups Monday sent a 60 day notice warning of impending legal action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unless the agency protects salmon from pesticides.

“Pesticides are deadly by design and they’ll kill baby salmon after the poisons wash off fields, orchards, and lawns into salmon streams," said attorney Patti Goldman of Earthjustice, the nonprofit, public interest law firm representing the groups.

The disputed EPA action on the pesticides came only after a federal district court ordered a review of the pesticides because of their potential danger to federally protected salmon.

But the EPA’s superficial review was criticized by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for enforcing salmon protections. "After review of the submitted information, NOAA Fisheries does not concur with EPA’s effects determinations," the agency wrote.

NOAA Fisheries is requesting that the EPA conduct a more extensive analysis of the effects of pesticides on salmon.

"EPA’s job is to regulate their use so they don’t violate the Endangered Species Act, but their own sister agency in the federal government has found them failing miserably at this obligation,” Goldman said.

The groups, which include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, and the Washington Toxics Coalition, are challenging EPA’s determinations of the effects of certain pesticides on salmon. These determinations suggest what actions the EPA must take to safeguard water quality and protect salmon.

The groups say that despite the fact that 90 percent of U.S. urban streams are contaminated with pesticides, the EPA failed to assess the risks of urban pesticide use on salmon.

EPA scientists lack necessary expertise on salmon life stages and habitat requirements, the groups allege, yet the EPA continually ignores the concerns raised by the wildlife biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, the two federal agencies with the greatest understanding of salmon biology.

"EPA is trying to get away with decades old science instead of doing right by the salmon," said Erika Schreder of Washington Toxics Coalition. “We’re holding EPA accountable for truly complying with the Endangered Species Act because giving it lip service doesn’t help salmon."

The action comes as the Bush administration and the EPA prepare to change the way pesticide impacts on wildlife are evaluated to favor pesticide makers and users at the expense of imperiled wildlife.

The EPA proposed regulations in January 2004 that would exclude the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries when determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species. Instead, the EPA would conduct "self consultation."

The proposal would also allow the agrochemical industry to control the research on the environmental impacts of its products, with special rights in the process not shared by the public, Earthjustice says.

The EPA's proposal was opposed in a letter of “serious concern” sent to the EPA in June by 66 members of Congress. Conservation and pesticide reform organizations challenged the scientific basis and legality of the proposed rules and some 20,000 people submitted comments in opposition.


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